A Rocky Riverbed – Untold Summer Stories (2)

A Rocky Riverbed

The girl’s mother was a native of the Northern realms where the ocean wasn’t far and seagulls now and then shrieked in the sky. She had followed a butcher from a small town in the mountainous South, married quickly and submitted herself to his no-nonsense apprentice training in the messy business about meat, ham and sausages. She was proud to be his assistant in a prospering butcher shop, which also offered hearty dishes for regional workers and drivers-by at lunchtime. When her first child was a chubby boy, she was quietly accepted in the community even though she failed to adapt to the regional manner of speaking. Things changed with her second child, a fragile girl, behind in growth for some years and just as much retarded that you couldn’t conceal it from the public. The girl grew up to be a blue-eyed teenager who behaved reasonably normal and was friendly against everybody. From the age of twelve on the girl developed an intense need to walk the paths of the nearby mountain valley. She used to stop for long minutes at her favourite tree stretching out her arms  for the strong trunk longingly. Her mother loved to see her happy in nature and she didn’t intervene, not even when her daughter turned her cravings to the mountain brook which gushed down over a rocky riverbed into the valley. There, she sat near a wooden bridge where the brook ran through the green meadows. On sunny days she could sit for hours and babble unintelligibly to the sound of the water. Tourists who would come along, crossing the bridge, were mesmerized by her extraordinary behaviour and the townspeople started whispering. One early summer evening, after he had just closed the shop, the butcher decided to fetch her and told his wife so. Don’t be too harsh with her, she pleaded. When he approached his daughter, who was standing at the creek in the warm evening light, she looked somewhat attractive to him, in a fairy-tale way, he thought. He walked up, embraced her and asked her to lean with her back against him. The valley was motionless. He told her about the water, the rocks and the mountains. He spoke into her neck of the mighty master of the mountain waters who resided in the grey pinnacles high above the valley. When the shadows got deeper he drew her into the riverbed and made her look at the grim, stony face of a mountain troll which protruded darkly from the riverbed. She was scared and wanted to run from the troll, but he stood behind her and held her with both arms like in a bench clamp. She went silent and listened to his words. The water troll would jump up from the riverbed and go for her. He would do things to her. Only when the moon was up in the star-covered sky did he let her go, took her by the hand and led her home. From then on she stayed in the house, learned to do some needle work and quit school for good. Winter came and spring, and nobody asked for her.

 

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Red-Roped Eternity – Untold Summer Stories (1)

Red-roped Eternity

He had parked his black, high-tuned motorbike neatly in the parking lot at the foot of the mountain which had looked to him like Swiss Matterhorn from afar. Even though its size had diminished the nearer he had got, he was determined to interrupt his ride to the flatlands and climb the grey, rocky peak. He kind of rushed up the first 700 metres of altitude – as if he had to purchase some last-minute supplies – not even noticing the sweat which ran down his back and dripped from his constantly creased forehead. His speeding heartbeat felt like rock drums in his chest. When he entered the rope-lined stretch on the narrow climbing ridge, his sight was impaired. He concentrated on the red rope and the rocky path which was bulbing toward him as if under a magnifying glass. When the stone struck him, he all of a sudden saw everything clearly in a single snapshot: The thick, red rope swinging slightly above him, the rugged, dirty rock with its myriads of cracks and even some fresh green leaves among the eternal moss of emptiness. He sucked in the razor-sharp air and knew that the stone had dropped from the white skies above him.

 

Geography of Escape (3)

Somewhere – Kurdistan!

Nations and Names

30 million people make the Kurds the fourth-largest ethnic group in the Middle East. But neither have they ever had a landlocked state nor have they ever been unified in their aim of nationbuilding. If you grow up being Kurdish you’ll belong to some other nation anyway. A presumptive state Kurdistan would turn out to be a nation of abandoned locals from a variety of time-honoured, dignified nations whose languages they speak like their mother tongue, whose traditions and collective memories they share and whose political ups and downs are – seamlessly – interwoven with themselves and their families. 

Coming from the mostly Kurdish city of Qamishly, e.g., which is embedded in the border triangle of Syria, Iraq and Turkey, you know by experience that  Kurdish culture exists in your community but that just the same this community exists in the national context of Syria. That’s what everybody from your community has been discussing passionately since the going has got tough, and which eventually means that you’ll either be squashed by the grindstones of your country’s upheavals or escape to somewhere else, namely the EU, where you are entirely displaced and doubly homeless. You have lost your Kurdish community which has been torn apart into hostile factions, and, moreover, you can no longer share and add to your nation’s history.

Kurdish communities – somewhere

Here you are now. You are nearly 24 , unmarried, your parents have died early, you observe religious rules, treasure fond boyhood memories of the Libanon, smoke sheesha  and your eventful life has been brought to a sickening standstill. You speak Arabic, Kurdish and Turkish but that doesn’t lead you anywhere. 

Where are you from? Tired of answering this frequently asked question about your nationality you draw out the country of Kurdistan on cardboard and take pleasure in the graceful borders of this new-born nation. “My name is Nader. I am from Kurdistan and a local of Qamishly”, you reply to the visitor, “let me tell you something about my homeland”.

Kurdistan – out of nowhere

Le Parc de La Villette – a landscape for the 21st century

Is Future Aging?

What happens to future when a brand-new generation of toddlers has arrived to look at it? When the avantgarde of two generations ago is walking grandchildren through the landscapes of old-but-bold dreams as, for example, at Le parc de la Villette in Paris’ 19th arrondissement?

Géode(1)

The small ones will wonder at the spectacular, shiny mirror which their avantgarde grandparents point out to them and they’ll take the kaleidoscopic reflections of La Géode for the real thing: the multi-faceted urban reality of Le Parc de La VilletteAdobePhotoshopExpress_03ae20efdde649b89414371fb0302da3

La Géode touches the eye with 6.433 triangles of preformed polished stainless steel on its perfectly smooth, shimmering surface and it reflects the surrounding world like a fortune teller’s magic sphere. Designed and constructed by the brothers Fainsilber, it opened as a 360° cinema-house in 1984, with a hemispherical screen of enormous 1000 m² and 26 m in diameter. Some steps further and La Géode mysteriously vanishes into the northeast Parisian sky – only to jump at the scene again behind the next bend of the path, like an apparition.

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The Parc de La Villette surpasses the traditional idea of nature to be embedded into the cityscape. Rather, the architect (Tschumi, 1984) envisioned the site of former meat-markets and second-empire slaughter-houses as an urban landscape where natural and artificial elements are brought alive together. Still, of the 55 hectare some 34  are dedicated to large, green surfaces which inspire Parisians to gather and interact or just to relax and meditate.The park hosts all kinds of events and activities such as game playing, exercising, entertainment, markets and has the Museum of Technology and Science and the City of Music on site, additionally.

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Museum of Technology and Science

In a way, the Parc de La Villette  is a puzzling space and often it resembles a very big, ‘jumpy’ and discontinuous building  which meanders unpredictably around numerous open-air spaces which were categorized as ‘surfaces’ by the architect. It somehow displays an urban structure which incessantly suggests social and cultural interactions to the visitor but at the same time leaves the choice to himself.

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The vast site of La Villette is structured by 35 red objects, all of them being 10x10x10 metre cubes or three-storey constructions. They were named ‘Folies’ by  the architect and every 120 metres people may stumble on such a folly which helps to regain orientation where open space, movement and interaction seem to have merged in a futuristic way.

At the Parc de La Villette the future has just begun, it’s fresh and young for grandparents and grandchildren alike.

 

 

(6) Toccata Organ – A Man’s Organ

An organ, found and lost

Man's Organ (1)

The sentimental value of a technical artifact often survives even if it long ago ended in deadlock and was disposed at the vast graveyard of industrial equipment. This is true for the Toccata Organ, which is a prominent exhibit at the industrial museum ‘Industriesalon Schöneweide’ and the only existing instrument of that kind today.

The technical signature of this organ is “K 2”. This may sound like a backward predecessor model of Starwar’s “R2D2”, but in fact “K 2” was a superbly performing electronic organ and frequently in operation at the Berlin opera house “Komische Oper” from 1961 to 1989. This bulky Toccata Organ, built as a prototype of highest electronic sound quality, needed more than 250 electronic tubes, complex tone generating circuits and special frequency dividers in order to imitate a pipe organ to hence unknown perfection. But tube electronics proved to be a technical blind alley and transistors took over for good. Just four instruments were built, three were lost completely, only “K 2” could be reanimated after it had been dumped by Samsung Electronics and it now remains to tell the story of the Toccata Organ. That was achieved by the very same man who had held the organ alive at the opera for nearly three decades.

Toccata Orgel Text groß

The man behind this technical artifact cannot be resurrected like an electronic organ, just his name survives in an explanatory note at a museum, in a booklet or in research papers – until the name has lost its meaning for the next generation. Considering, that all those years at the “Komische Oper” the Toccata Organ was cared for and held alive by a single man as if the electronic instrument had become a part of his own organism, you wonder, if the fully completed separation of man and machine won’t turn machines into cyborg beings on the one hand and, on the other hand, will gradually wipe out man’s ethical self.toccata-orgel-exhibit-3

 

(5) Heritage of Loss – Manhood

Argot Binaire (1)

Man Machine, drinking gasoline

“I’m a man machine drinking gasoline” – an appealing song for a male citoyen who maybe lives in a European capital and shares his cool contemporary views via twitter and a weĺl-furnitured literary blog with a fairly  non-conformed net community.

While listening to the hammering music for a second time  he imagines grimy, athletic bodies, emaciated by some excruciating industrial work slavery – unseen and unheard of in his own ” corridors of knowledge” as he has recently named  his academic field of work. He’s a professor of law, a schoengeist, too, but right now he rejoices in conjuring up gasoline-fed, smeared bodies – so hard that he can control them by letting them flex their muscles, bend and stretch their torsos, making them spread their legs like an archaic fighting machine. These creatures are manly through and through, he thinks, but in a defiant way, yes, defying their innate machine ma-scu-li-ni-ty, can you hear me, he shouts. That’s what they do, he rages against the vibrating sub-woofers. They are beyond rules, they don’t obey to written words and healthy nourishment and all that painstakingly documented civilization stuff which he himself carefully pays tribute to, day by day, in his urban life as an educated citoyen.

He watches those machine beings who are the vital, patient slaves of an out-faded enlightenment age. They’ll be guzzling gasoline and toiling like gladiators until their time has come. That will be the day when they spit gasoline into the faces of good-looking, slim urbanites like himself. They will soil him and he will submit gladly. They will reach over for all the pretty glasses full of sparkling champagne, everywhere in those pampered European cities. And they’ll empty them, hurl them, break them and it’ll be the start of their reign, the age of a new manhood and the semi-human man machine.

He sighs, and listens to the next song.”Man machine, semi human being, man machine, super human being”, a somewhat weak promise that the profound abyss between body and humanity may be overcome by a six-pack cyborg homunculus. “Man machine, the evil of a dream”, a dream lost a century ago which is now displayed in museums, on fitness courts and in art-house movies.

He turns the volume down, looks out of his living room window, takes a photo of the orange-blue sunset which still lingers above the Western spheres of the capital, and sits down at his laptop. He opens his twitter account and uploads the sunset photo, the third one this month. “Too early to go to bed, but in case I won’t have time later on: Good night, everyone. Sleep well.”

(4) Heritage of Loss – Cyborgs and all my yesterdays

My post-industrial cyborg self…

Picasso Machine Frame

… is getting inquisitive sometimes…

 

Where has my humanity gone? Has it left my body? Have I reduced myself to a feeling android? Or has my mind changed into cyborg software which handles my body and soul? But I know I can always press the escape key and stay safe with my human glass shades of feeling such as lighting scented candles when things appear sad or uttering soft noises of pleasure when people look happy.

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Glass shade, bluish reflections

Happy, how much I yearn for the blurred happiness of a summer song. It turns the tiniest rest of dried-out happiness into sparkling life. Like sherbet powder tingling on my tongue and vibrating in my veins: Why? I said…

“… because I’m happy
Clap along if you feel like a room without a roof
Because I’m happy
Clap along if you feel like happiness is the truth
Because I’m happy
Clap along if you know what happiness is to you
Because I’m happy
Clap along if you feel like that’s what you wanna do

Happy, bring me down
Can’t nothing, bring me down
Love is too happy to bring me down
Can’t nothing, bring me down
I said bring me down
Can’t nothing, bring me down
Love is too happy to bring me down
Can’t nothing, bring me down…” (1)

And I repeat that over and over and over again so nothing can bring me down because I’m happy. As long as the coloured lights are blinking and the singing goes on.

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Post-industrial landscapes

Afterwards I’m back to some post-industrial site and to all my yesterdays in the inclosures of humanity.

 

(1) Happy, Pharell Williams

(3) Heritage of Loss – The Power of Tubes

Vacuum tubes – still going strong at Industriesalon Schöneweide

Röhrensammlung 2

Visiting the vast display storeroom at Industriesalon Schöneweide is like entering a sculpture park: You are overwhelmed by the magnitude and strangeness of the objects. The display storeroom (‘Schaudepot’) with a mass of impressive exhibits tells the eventful and multilayered story of electrical engineering at Berlin-Treptow, of the first power plant producing alternating current here, of a cable plant and a transformer station – all of this in three various historical periods in German history. After the “Wende”, when Samsung shut down the place in 2009 and the collection of industrial artifacts from the 1980s was doomed for dumping, some courageous people succeeded in saving this incomparable industrial heritage and founded the Industriesalon Schöneweide as an industrial museum. The transfixed visitor from today’s transistor-based digital world may dwell and rummage at large here and, while doing so, discover the once so powerful kingdom of vacuum valves!

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The (nearly) lost kingdom of vacuum tubes

Mostly, the vacuum tube has become obsolete in nowadays technology. Even if tubes are still used at microwave radio frequencies and special hi-fi audio systems sometimes, they have been replaced by an ultra-efficient transistor technology, without any evidence of a tube comeback –  except for  real audioheads who insist that tubes deliver better audio quality than transistors. So, during the last two decades vacuum tubes have become a cherished part of man’s industrial heritage. When looking at the schematic diagram of a vacuum valve, it’ll perhaps remind you of an illustration showing the interior of an Egyptian pyramid, complete with nicely coloured explanatory hieroglyphs, and in that way it reveals something of the complex process of developing and producing electron tubes on this industrial site.tubeworks

Eavesdropping onto industrial history at Schöneweide

Of course, everyone knows his lessons on batteries, tubes, transistors and the like, hours which proceeded sluggishly from current to voltage, from anode to cathode, from positive to negative and vice versa, out of the black box and back into. You had to accept the given facts and there was no point in mulling things over – that was meant for the chosen few who would get a job in some future electrochemical laboratory. AdobePhotoshopExpress_496070b7a36a48d68cfa158ad5be00b4

Halting in front of a bulky eavesdropping machine, you learn that it had been developed and used in the days of the German Democratic Republic (GDR) for spying on the enemy territory of the Federal Republic of Germany – from the top of GDR mountain Brocken (1.141 m). You look at the weathered photocopy showing the espionage station on the highest peak of the Harz mountain ranges and, yes, some sparks of long forgotten lessons come to mind: A vacuum tube is a device used to amplify and rectify electronic signals. Sure, in those days they needed tubes to spy from mountain heights. Current passing through the filament, or cathode (-), heats it up so that it knocks off electrons which have a negative charge.Why, oh, why? These electrons are attracted to the plate, or anode(+). A grid of wires between the filament and the plate is negative, repels the electrons and thus controls the current to the plate. In this process it will be able to amplify the voltage given to it. Control and miraculous precision!AdobePhotoshopExpress_385660b64f984c47a9b3e407d1d2c478

I take two steps back in the narrow corridor, which has led me to this amazing object, to take in the grandeur of the bulky spying machine. It speaks of a bold engineering spirit – ill-fitting to snoop on other people’s affairs but rather suitable to reach out across borders and exchange ideas on new technologies (like transistors, for example). A kind of “light bulb” moment makes me shake off the repelling spy v. spy stories, may they rest in silence. Instead, I can detect some of the former engineer’s mind in the exhibition and curiously turn to the rows of varied vacuum tubes: Here, the industrial, social and political heritage of a past era has become tangible and alive in a very human way!

 

(2) Heritage of Loss – A Microwave Brontosaurus

Local identity and collective memories

Industrial spaces witness the profound impact of technical activities on people’s socio-economic history and presence. The uniqueness of the heritage left over to future generations reveals a lot about the local process of industrial change. Somehow, each site carries the value of a specific local memory. It’s present not only in the industrial space and environmental background, but just the same in contents, mechanical or technical equipment, in the industrial landscape, its architecture and literature. The everyday lives of different groups of people are ‘recorded’ in the industrial heritage and since everyday life is necessarily attached to a certain place, a kind of local identity clings to the site, even if decades have passed. Some exhibits in the ‘working’ museum Industriesalon Schöneweide, the historical centre of a once large-scale, most modern electronics industry on the outskirts of Berlin, very strongly convey such collective memories and a feeling of local identity.

A Microwave Brontosaurus

Developed in the mid-sixties, this GDR (1) microwave oven was produced towards the end of the sixties. It turned out to be the only GDR prototype – just 140 microwaves ever left the production halls. They were used in restaurants and canteen kitchens.

Microwave Dinosaur

(1) GDR-German Democratic Republic

Using electron tubes in a microwave oven

The microwave oven was manufactured in a state-owned GDR enterprise, VEB Elektrowärme Sörnewitz. The bulky, head-high oven consists of a cooking cabinet and a large chamber for power supply. The electron tubes were produced at VEB Fernsehelektronik, a factory for television electronics.

How To Use My Microwave

Those were high-voltage rectifier tubes and magnetrons, initially being “by- products” of a GDR developing program for radar technology. The heat required is generated by the transformation of magnetic field energy into thermal energy within the food product to be heated or cooked.

Besucherzentrum Industriesalon Schöneweide e.V.,Reinbeckstr.9, 12459 Berlin

(1) Heritage of Loss

 

Industrial heritage – understanding loss and digging into future!

Industrie Luftschloss

Industrial sites shape landscapes into settlements and communities. Where there used to be nature, agriculture or wasteland you find buildings, plants, architecture, machinery, products, transport, housing – all of which develops like an island sputtered up from the ocean of man’s industrial and commercial instincts. An island that is projected into the future and based on change. If you visit abandoned plants and look at the material remains of former industries, you’ll often sense the massive loss which their decomposition means.

Industrie Kunstschlaf

On the vast site of former AEG Schöneweide in Berlin-Treptow, where on rural grounds the industrial empire of AEG rose and collapsed in the course of little more than a century, you may find a sleeping giant. He was left behind in the industrial detritus. In his sleep he looks decrepit and promising at the same time, being sheltered under a neatly painted inscription from our days. The lines “Gib der Kunst Raum, dann wird sich die Schönheit ihrer Seele frei entfalten” (1) sounds like the beginning of an elegy addressed to ancient Greek ruins. The words deny the reality of industrial collapse and instead speak of art, beauty and unfolding of souls. As if the strong sense of abandonment, which is still omnipresent here, has miraculously given way to a new space for people to get started again, differently.

(1) “Lend space to art so that it may unfold the beauty of its soul in freedom”

Industriegebiet Kaisersteg

The ruins of social change are unlikely to raise romantic outbursts as those from ancient days do, particularly not so in affluent modern societies. Maybe the reason lies in the anonymity of the relics. We don’t see the people who once worked the plant but disintegrating industrial material. Moreover, these industrial leftovers are a shameful reminder of social defeat. Adaptive re-use didn’t work out, abandonment became inevitable and now decay has taken over. But however “marooned in time, we should understand that ruins have a value” (2) so that they can remind future generations of a “common wealth” which brought about products, skills and knowledge just as well as work identification and social progress.
Kaisers Neue Kleider
So, there are riches in the detritus which the former industrial community has left behind. If the ruins stay, future generations will have the opportunity of digging for them. Obviously, there are enough people who know that they don’t need the deception of the emperor’s new clothes and who get started with genuinely new projects. Walking about on the former industrial sites of Schöneweide you get a feeling that although the past is not yet over some digging into the future has already begun.
Industrie Kunsthallen

 

Former industrial communities – “(…) these are the nameless people. Our job is to pierce their anonymity so that future generations may understand their extraordinary achievements.The future of these working places is in our hands; to preserve for posterity, to recycle for tomorrow,
or to leave alone so that future generations can make choices for themselves based on our prudence and their values and judgments. We have a choice over whether it is treasure or trash.” (3)
Neil Cossons, Industrial Heritage: Treasure or Trash, Abstract for TICCIH (2), (3)